Why must I repeat myself?

Total disaster

My arch-nemesis has always been the repeated word. Tremendously difficult for me to detect in my own writing, it lurks quietly in plain view, holding its breath, until, casually triumphant, it humiliates me again.

No matter how many times I commit the conspicuous error of inadvertently repeating a word, I can’t seem to find a method to avoid it. Serenity Software’s Editor for Windows might have the potential to rescue me from myself, but it’s currently incompatible with Microsoft Word 2007. An advertisement for StyleWriter, a more expensive software program, claims it will help me avoid clichés and “break poor writing habits.” But will it make me feel better about needing software to rectify my shortcomings?

I can’t overlook the repeated word in another person’s writing. It makes me cringe. Literary critic at large Pat Holt ranks it foremost of “Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do),” and she’s absolutely right.

So, what’s wrong with me? Why are my errors and infelicities invisible to me? I’d rather be guilty of flagrantly elegant variation than oblivious to my careless redundancies.

The thing is, I’m generally not a sloppy writer; I’m somewhat the opposite. Lucy Van Pelt and I are soul sisters. For our neurotic compulsions we suffer the derision of barbarians who, in their words, “could care less.” It’s not amusing to be exposed as a hypocrite. It can lead to bitterness.

Perhaps a scientific explanation for my lapses would console me. If I keep searching, maybe I’ll find the results of a study demonstrating the inverse relationship between congeniality and perspicuity.

2 Replies to “Why must I repeat myself?”

  1. Dear Robin Mizell,

    FYI: I’m one of the developers of “Editor for Windows,” mentioned in your 11/3 “Treated and Released” blog. It’s true that Editor is somewhat erratic when installed on Vista machines (installs ok on our Vista laptop, runs most features, but fiddling is needed to take advantage of all usage analyses) and that Editor doesn’t read Word 2007 files directly yet. But Word 2007 can export files in Word 2003 format that Editor can read and analyze. We, and some of our users, run W2007 in our XP machines. Perhaps it’s worth noting that W2007’s touted new “context-sensitive” spelling checker isn’t very thorough, in our tests, and that its “grammar” checker remains dismal. WordPerfect’s is better, but still mistake prone.

    Our next release, any day now, has a feature (runs in Vista installations as well as Win 98, 2000, XP) that checks every word in every paragraph, pointing out those that repeat more than three times. We have had a check for some time (also runs in Vista) that shows words and phrases repeated in an entire document. I suspect only serious writers like you care enough to use these features thoughtfully. Most writers, especially accomplished ones, find Editor’s comprehensive assault on stylistic infelicities helpful along with its ability to find thousands of spelling mistakes and homonym errors, including many possessive-plural confusions, that Word and WordPerfect ignore.

    Editor can help with three of the “Holt Uncensored” categories: Repeats (as above), Empty Adverbs, and to some extent, Flat Writing. The other categories need a human intelligence—wet, not soft, ware—for remediation.

    Regards from a fellow writer.

    John Thiesmeyer
    Serenity Software

  2. John:

    It’s good to know that Editor will expose repeated words, although a single repetition is often too much for my taste. I’d buy it for that feature alone, as you can imagine.

    Thanks so much for commenting.


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